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Week of 30 September 2002

Latest Update : Tuesday, 26 November 2002 12:29 -0500


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Monday, 30 September 2002

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11:16 - I've finally started downloading Red Hat 8.0. It wasn't on linuxiso.org as of a few minutes ago, and the download link on the Red Hat site returned an error. I fired up my ftp client and found out why. Until a few minutes ago, the 8.0 directory on the Red Hat ftp server had permissions of dr-x------. I kept checking every few minutes until it showed up with a reasonable set of permissions, and then started the download. There are five psyche ISOs plus MD5SUM downloading now. Slowly, but they are downloading.

I'm grabbing these now because I need a standard Linux distribution for the third edition of PC Hardware in a Nutshell, and Red Hat seemed about as standard as it was possible to get. I considered getting the latest Mandrake, which probably has more desktop installations than Red Hat, but Red Hat seems the way of the future. Once these downloads finish, probably by tonight or tomorrow morning, I'll burn the ISOs and install the OS on the Pentium 4 box I built for it. That's assuming the downloads don't crash and burn, of course.

Hmmm. After about 15 minutes of downloading, ISOs #1, 2, 3, and 5 are up to about 14 MB each, while ISO #4 is lagging at about 4 MB. Still, they are at least downloading. MD5SUM is queued for download, but hasn't actually started transferring yet. Let's see. I've gotten about 2.5% after 15 minutes, which translates to 10% per hour, or about 10 hours to get to 100%. So I should have all five ISOs by about 9:00 p.m. tonight, if this transfer rate keeps up. We'll see.

We ended up going up to Bullington last night again. The skies were relatively good, although it was a lot cooler than Saturday night, and the humidity was atrocious. Not long after full dark, I picked up my log notebook, and water literally ran off it. We kept the finders and eyepieces covered with towels when we weren't using them, and were able to get some observing in. Barbara logged a couple of more Messier Objects last night, just to make sure she had the required number for her Astronomical League Messier Club certificate. It's now official. She's the first member of the Winston-Salem Astronomical League to complete the requirements for membership in one of the AL clubs.

I knocked a couple items off my to-do list yesterday, including installing phones downstairs and in my office. There were already cable runs to both locations, but we haven't had phones installed either place since our telephone system got crisped by lightning several months ago. We're down to one phone line now (from a high of seven), and there was no longer any real need for a telephone system as opposed to just plain old phones. So yesterday I toned out the cable runs to my office and the downstairs area, located them on the punch down block, and cross-connected them to the CO line. I now have an official working phone in my office.

13:38 - We just returned from the nursing home. Barbara had gone over to do the morning visit, and called me from there. My mom is plagued by a resident who won't leave her alone. He sits out in the hall and stares at her. Worse, he comes into her room while she's asleep and grabs her. On at least one ocassion, he rolled his wheelchair into her room and urinated all over the floor, and on another he came into her room and exposed himself to her. She's terrified of him, and unable to sleep for fear of him intruding.

We've tried everything we can think of, and nothing stops him. The nursing home is legally restricted in what they can do. I'd like to see them tether his wheelchair to the wall or lock him into his room, but the nursing home folks tell me they can't do that because it would violate his legal rights. What about my mother's legal rights, I'd like to know?

At any rate, Barbara called this morning and said they were going to move my mother's bed from the side of the room near the door to the side near the window. I went over to help with the move, and mom is now settled in at her new location. I hope that helps. If not, I'm going to talk to the nursing home about having my mother dial 911 if he bothers her. Already, he could be charged with various offenses, including criminal trespass, indecent exposure, and battery. There is no way my mother should have to put up with this, and no way I'm going to let her suffer because they can't restrain this son of a bitch.

Well, my Red Hat Linux 8.0 ISO downloads all died, one after the other. I just checked linuxiso.org, and found a notification that RH 8.0 would be available for download as soon as their mirrors get it posted and traffic subsides sufficiently for them to verify the sites. Oh, well. It doesn't really matter. I can wait a day or two until the frenzy calms a bit.

I just found an interesting article on the New York Times (free subscription required). It talks about consumer reluctance to buy new PCs--the old ones are fast enough--and the coming demise of the desktop PC. Of course, it also quotes a Gartner forecast that an average of 167,000,000 new PCs will be sold every year for the next six years. That may represent a downturn in demand, but it's certainly not the death knell of the desktop PC as we know it. It does mean hard times for Intel, though, and particularly for AMD. There'll be a billion processors sold over the next six years, not counting upgrade processors, but the vast majority of them will sell at relatively small margins. Intel can stand that, at least for a while, but AMD will be hurting badly.

Processors are one of the last PC components to become commoditized, but it's pretty obvious they're on that path now. Consumers no longer care about the speed race, if indeed they ever did, so it will come down to a question of whether people have even a slight preference for the Intel brand. Obviously, they do, other than in the small enthusiast segment, and that doesn't bode well for the future prospects of AMD. Combine that with Intel's efficiencies of scale and production resources, and AMD is almost certain to be relegated to the also-ran segment from which the Athlon briefly raised them.

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Tuesday, 1 October 2002

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8:56 - I have the Red Hat Linux 8.0 ISOs. After several abortive attempts to download them yesterday, I got email from Roland Dobbins, who offered to stick them up on my server. He did so, and I downloaded them overnight. Thanks, Roland!

Barbara is off playing golf with her father, so I'm going to take a shower and head off to the nursing home to visit my mother. When I get back, I'll burn the ISOs and install Red Hat 8.0.

More later.

14:33 - I'm having some problems installing Red Hat Linux 8.0. The five ISOs downloaded overnight, and after posting the material above I started burning the first three ISO images to disc. I wasn't in any particular hurry, so I decided to use some of the old Smart & Friendly 4X blanks from The Spindle That Will Not Die.

When I fired up Nero Burning ROM and started burning the first ISO, Nero popped up a warning dialog that said something about a block mismatch. My two options were to Correct the problem or Ignore. Unintuitively, I chose the Ignore option, because I seemed to remember from past burns that Ignore worked while Correct borked things. After 20 minutes or so, the first disc was finished, so I started the second. This time, I got no such message, but I wasn't sure if that was because I was burning a different ISO image or because I'd not closed Nero between the first and second burns and it was simply using the option I'd specified for the first burn.

While the second disc was burning, I stuck the first one in the new desktop Linux box and restarted it. Red Hat's setup routine fired up normally, and I thought that everything would proceed normally. Then an option popped up that I'd never seen before. Setup offered to check the disc. From reading the verbiage, it seemed that this was more a physical check for readability than a logical check for file coherency, but I decided to let it run. The check took several minutes to complete, after which it told me that the disc was bad and that it recommended not using it.

In the interim, Disc 2 had finished burning, so I stuck it in the Linux box and had the check routine look at it. The verdict was again that the disc was bad. So I stuck a Taiyo Yuden blank in the CD burner and burned a new copy of Disc 1. Running the check routine on it told me once again that the disc was bad. At that point, I began to wonder if perhaps it was just a matter of the discs not being finalized. CD burners have no problem reading discs that haven't been closed because they can read the temporary TOC that's not accessible to ordinary CD drives. The Linux box has a Plextor 24X burner in it, so I thought perhaps the check routine was just telling me that the discs I'd made weren't generally usable, although they seemed to be okay in this drive.

I restarted the system with the Taiyo Yuden Disc 1 in the drive. Setup appeared to proceed normally. After finishing with Disc 1, it prompted me for Disc 2, which I inserted. I was busy doing other stuff, just glancing over occasionally to check on progress. At some point during Disc 2 installation, I noticed that progress had stopped on a Chrome file. I moved the mouse, and the cursor moved on screen, so it wasn't a matter of the system being locked up. I waited a few more minutes, but eventually I concluded that Setup was in fact hung.

I did what I should have done originally, and ran the MD5 sums. Sure enough, although Discs 2 through 5 were okay, the MD5 sum on the Disc 1 ISO didn't match the expected value. I know that I really should check the MD5 sums before burning discs, but I almost never do and it's almost always okay. This time, though, I got bitten.

I'm downloading ISO #1 again, and will start over, this time after verifying that the MD5 sums match.

 

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Wednesday, 2 October 2002

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10:09 - I spent a couple of hours playing with Red Hat Linux 8.0. Getting it installed was harder than it should have been, but that wasn't Red Hat's fault. I had a perfect copy of ISO #1, but the ISO itself was defective. ISO #2 was perfect, but the copy was defective due to a bad CD blank. Once I downloaded and re-burned ISO #1 and re-burned ISO #2, everything went swimmingly well. If you download Red Hat 8.0, I encourage you to use their disc-check facility, which runs automatically when you start the installation. It told me that both Disc 1 and Disc 2 were bad initially. If I'd believed it, I would have saved some time. Once the disc-check gave a pass to all three discs, everything went perfectly.

Installation will be familiar to anyone who's installed a recent version of Red Hat. The first noticeable change is that there's now an option for a "Desktop" installation, which is what I chose. Setup detected all of my hardware properly, with the exception of the Microsoft PS/2 IntelliMouse (which it saw as a generic 3-button mouse) and my Dell 1025HTX monitor (which it was unable to probe). Both of those failures may have been caused by the fact that this system connects to the monitor, keyboard, and mouse via an electronic KVM switch. Changing the settings to use the IntelliMouse and 1025HTX monitor was easy enough, and everything worked properly once I'd made those changes.

Linux has often been accused of being hard to install. If my experience is any indication, Red Hat 8.0 installs as easily as Windows 2000 or Windows XP, perhaps easier. The graphics installer is pretty, and the default choices are sane ones. With very few minor exceptions, I accepted the default choices. With only a bit of hand-holding, my mother could install Red Hat 8.0 on standard hardware.

Initial impressions of Red Hat Linux 8.0:

Red Hat Linux 8.0 is not a desktop Windows killer, although it comes closer to that ideal than any Linux distribution I've seen. If I could add one major area of functionality to Red Hat Linux 8.0, it would be to have it sniff the network during installation, detect the presence of Windows networking, and offer to set up access to Windows shares, shared Windows printers, and so on. With that addition, Red Hat 8.0 would provide some extremely serious competition to desktop Windows.

Red Hat Linux 8.0 is pretty. By that, I mean the new interface is attractive, and the operating system and applications (or at least the ones I've tried) use TrueType fonts and anti-aliasing properly. The blocky, crude appearance of former versions is gone. Using Mozilla 1.0 to look at this page under RH 7.3 was painful, the fonts were so bad. Using Mozilla to look at this page under RH 8.0, it looks just like it does under Windows.

Red Hat 8.0 has chosen a sane set of default applications. Instead of second-tier apps like KOffice and Konqueror, RH 8.0 presents the user with one best-of-breed application in each category. For a browser, you get Mozilla. For an office suite, you get OpenOffice.org. For an email client, you get Evolution. You can still use the other apps if you wish, of course, but by default you get the good ones. Red Hat has taken a lot of heat for simplifying things for users, but in my opinion what they've done is a Very Good Thing. I've never bought into the "Choice is Good" mantra. For beginners like me, Choice is Confusing (or can be). Much better that beginners are presented with default choices that make sense. Red Hat has really given all of us the best of all worlds here. Beginners get a solid set of top-notch applications, and experts are still free to choose other applications if they wish. Red Hat has done everyone a favor, although from the outcry in the Linux community, one wouldn't think so.

Stuff is where you expect it to be, the importance of which can't be overstated for people who are migrating from Windows. For example, by default Red Hat Linux 8.0 presents a rather large task bar at the bottom of the screen. I'm running it on a 17" monitor with limited screen real estate, so I wanted to autohide the task bar, as I do routinely in Windows. So I right-clicked the task bar, and a context-sensitive menu came up. I chose Properties and then clicked the Autohide box to enable it.

There are still a few rough edges in Red Hat Linux 8.0. For example, as I was writing this, I double-clicked the Start Here icon, which displays a folder with icons for Applications, Preferences, Server Settings, and System Settings. When I double-clicked Preferences, an error box popped up to tell me that "Application "nautilus" (process 1068) has crashed due to a fatal error. (Aborted)" When I clicked OK to acknowledge that error, my desktop reappeared with no icons visible. Although I'm sure there was probably some way to recover short of rebooting, I went ahead and restarted the system, after which everything worked as expected. That failure makes me unhappy, but then Windows Explorer has certainly crashed on me more than once.

Red Hat's target for the Desktop option is call-center staffs and others with very tightly defined desktop application needs, and it appears to me that they've hit the bull's-eye for that market. Red Hat themselves say that this release is not intended to challenge Windows head-on in the general office/productivity segment, although from what I've seen Red Hat 8.0 fits the requirements of that segment better than anyone might have expected.

Is Red Hat 8.0 good enough to be your only desktop operating system? That depends. If you need to run applications and games that are available only for Windows, RH 8.0 clearly is insufficient. But if you need an excellent general-purpose desktop operating system for routine web browsing, mail, and office applications, RH 8.0 may just be the first Linux release that gives you what you're looking for.

10:57 - Arrrghhh. Here's what migrating from Outlook 2000 to Mozilla Mail cost me. I forgot to do my full network backup on Sunday. I don't forget important things all that often, but it's pretty clear I need Evolution (or Mozilla's still-alpha Calendar module) to remind me of stuff like this.

I've been cruising around looking for good places to download Red Hat Linux 8.0 that I could list for my readers. I conclude that there still aren't any. All of the mirrors I looked at, and I looked at a lot, are still clogged. That'll calm down in the next few days, of course, but in the interim it may be tough to download RH 8.0. Fortunately, Roland Dobbins grabbed it early and uploaded it to my server. I could publish that address and username/password, but then Greg Lincoln and Brian Bilbrey would have to kill me...

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Thursday, 3 October 2002

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9:47 - I almost installed Red Hat 8.0 on my den system last night. Almost, but not quite. I found myself sitting there looking at the icons and programs menu, wondering what if anything I had on this system that I couldn't live without. There are only two Windows-only programs here that I'd hate to lose: Cartes du Ciel, which is a planetarium program I use for astronomy, and the Encyclopedia Britannica. Both of those would be major losses, but I could live without them if I had to. Of course, there's always the possibility of getting them running under Linux, or of dual-booting the system.

I'd about decided to blow away Windows 2000 and install Red Hat 8.0, when I got to thinking about what was still missing in Red Hat 8.0. I wasn't concerned so much from a functional aspect, as in terms of what I haven't configured yet or don't know how to do. The one thing that immediately popped up, so to speak, was the absence of an ad/popup blocker on my Linux box. I've gotten used to browsing in peace, and a week often goes by between my seeing one banner ad and the next. Five minutes' browsing with Mozilla under Linux was more than enough to convince me that I couldn't live with the screaming ads. Mozilla, of course, has some ability to block images and popups, but nearly enough for my tastes. I want a completely ad-free environment, or as nearly so as technology can give me.

Fortunately, I think I already have the answer. I'd downloaded WebWasher for Linux some time ago. It comes as a tarball, which I have no idea how to install. I mean, I know how to extract files from a tarball, but I'm not sure how to install the program, whether it'll mess with Red Hat's RPM database, whether I'll end up in dependency hell, whether it's even compatible with RH 8.0, etc. etc. I'll figure that out, I'm sure.

Roland Dobbins brings up another issue. He says that I made a big mistake by choosing the Desktop option, because I'll surely encounter missing files as I work with the system. He says that I should re-install, selecting "install everything including the kitchen sink". I'm sure he's right, and in fact I considered doing that initially. But for now I'm enjoying just playing with RH 8.0. If I have to blow away this installation later, that's not a problem.

Those noises you're hearing are Hilary, squealing like a stuck Rosen. The pigopoly has finally been challenged. At last, someone is doing something about the DMCA and the rights-grab the big copyright holders have been making for the last oh so many years. In addition to Lofgren's proposed "Digital Choice And Freedom Act Of 2002" bill, Representative Rick Boucher is introducing a second bill. If passed, these two bills will reduce the impact of the DMCA, albeit not eliminate it. The digital rights pigs, AKA the RIAA and the MPAA, are predicting the end of the world if these bills pass. No word yet from Senator Fritz "Hollywood" Hollings (D - Disney), Representative Howard Berman (D - Disney), or Representative Howard Coble (R - Disney).

Although these bills are a start, we need to go further. Copyrights and patents are Constitutionally permitted for "Authors" and "Inventors". Nowhere does the Constitution authorize the government to issue copyrights for sound recordings and movies, nor is any provision made for patenting computer programs. Now, you might object that sound recordings, movies, and computer programs didn't exist when the Constitution was written, but that's not the point. The point is that, barring a Constitutional Amendment, the federal government has no authority to issue copyrights or patents on such things. The pertinent text is as follows:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

On that basis, a book can be copyrighted, as can a magazine article, or a screenplay, or indeed this journal page. Those are "Writings". So too can be the lyrics or score for a piece of music, or the code for a computer program. But nowhere does the Constitution grant the federal government the right to issue copyrights for recorded music, or for movies or television programs. Similarly, considering a computer programmer an "Inventor" or computer programs "Discoveries" is really stretching a point. That rules out patents for computer software, although programs could still be protected by copyright, which of course is the way things used to be done. 

Accordingly, anyone who considers and treats such copyrights and patents as null and void is, in my opinion, on strong Constitutional grounds. Reality, of course, is different, at least for now, but I think anyone who disregards such flagrant abuses of Constitutional authority is morally justified in doing so.

I also think it would be reasonable to consider the exclusive Right granted to Authors and Inventors to be unalienable. An unalienable right is one that can't be taken away and can't be given away. On that basis, a copyright or patent could be granted to the person who created the work, but could not be transferred to a corporation or another person. That is, the original creator would be the only one who could exercise that copyright or patent.

The "limited Times" aspect also needs some work. The Framers never intended that copyrights should become permanent. My guess is that they were thinking of a short term, perhaps a few years, after which the Writings and Discoveries would pass into the public domain. Something like seven years, renewable for another seven years, might be reasonable. I might even accept 14 years renewable for another 14, although that's pushing it. But the current terms are simply outrageous.

11:24 - I've been cleaning up my inbox this morning. When I started, it had 387 new messages. Those are real messages, mind you, not including spam, mailing list messages, and so on. So if you've sent me mail and hadn't had a reply, that's why. And if you get a reply today that's short-shrift, that's also why. I am still buried, but at least I can see the train at the end of the tunnel.

This from Charles Butler, under the subject "Buffy, the U.N. Slayer":

I believe your opinion of the U.N. and Buffy mirrors mine, so I thought you would appreciate this commentary:

http://www.townhall.com/columnists/jonahgoldberg/jg20020926.shtml

Which is indeed an interesting article, and well worth reading.

And another from Dr. Mark Huth:

Thought I'd never say this, but....I purchased a powerbook running os x about 4 months ago and am running microsoft office on it...it is, without a doubt, a fantastic piece of hardware and software. I'd strongly suggest you look at it for your "mission critical" work. I'm still doing lots of work on my pc's, but when I need to do something that isn't going to break and has to work....I do it on the Mac. The new version of os x...jaguar...networks with windows seamlessly.

All of the benefit of unix without any of the pain....stuff just works.

You're not the first person recently to suggest the new Apple systems. If I were using a PC simply as a tool I might indeed make the change, but of course I don't just use PCs, I write about them. I actually do have solid systems around here, which I never install test software on, so I'm never lacking a working system to do my job.

But I do think it's interesting how many people are seriously considering Mac OS X systems. Rumor has it that Apple has a skunk works devoted to putting OS X on Intel processors, which would be an interesting development. Of course, rumor also has it that OS X running on Intel processors simply blows away OS X running on Apple systems, and that Jobs accordingly will never let it see the light of day.

And this from Chris Christensen:

Since I'll be shortly building a new computer myself, for Linux, I'll be interested in seeing your success with an ATI 8500: from my reading, this card is unsupported (except by framebuffer) in XFree 4.2x. There is a non-free driver that has gotten an indifferent response.

>From what I've read, nVidia has the best game results with their proprietary driver (I don't play computer games). I've a friend who tells me that Matrox produces very good 2d on his Linux SMP box. The Rage 128 that I'm using does a good job of 2d on a 1600x1200 monitor, but I imagine it is poor at 3d.

I'm the wrong guy to ask about Linux hardware, at least for now. I keep hearing that Linux doesn't support the ATI RADEON 8500, but every time I install Linux, at least Red Hat 7.3 and 8.0, it detects the RADEON 8500 and apparently installs the proper drivers. I don't know how good those drivers are in 3D, because I don't run any 3D programs under Linx (or under Windows, for that matter). But my RH Linux 8.0 box is using the 8500 just fine, and what appear to be OpenGL 3D screensavers are working normally. Perhaps someone else will comment on the messageboard.

This from Michael Hill:

Thanks for the reply to my post about a Linux box. I guess I will wait for Intel to send you the kit and see what you think !

I am probably biting off more than I can chew but I would like to explore Linux and earlier this evening I tried to install Mandrake. The distribution came on a DVD attached to a magazine and required me to burn 3 CDs from the 3 ISO images on the DVD. I have seen you mention this process a number of times in your journal. It took me a couple of hours (and 3 coasters) to work out that making an image of an image doesn't get you very far ! In my case (Easy CD Creator ---yes I know ----) there is a function for "unpacking" the ISO image (or however it works) but it took me a while to work out why nothing I tried was working. I wondered if all your readers were as ignorant as me in this area and whether some comment from you might be useful to them ?

That's a reasonable request, and I wish I could do something to address it. Like many people who've downloaded Linux ISOs, I've unintentionally burned a copy of an ISO file to the blank CD rather than using the ISO image file to create a usable CD. The trouble is, I made that mistake back when I was using (shudder) Easy CD or an early version of Nero Burning ROM. With recent versions of Nero, there's nothing to it. You simply choose File -> Burn Image, point to the ISO image you want to burn, and Nero creates a usable CD for you. I don't know how to use ISO image files to create CDs in recent releases of Easy CD, simply because I refuse to have Easy CD or DirectCD installed on any of my systems.

More later, maybe, as I continue to wade through my inbox.

 

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Friday, 4 October 2002

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11:04 - We live in a development called Town & Country Estates. Unlike many developments, whose names bear no relation to physical features of the area, ours is appropriately named. We are inside the city limits, but have horses and sheep grazing within a quarter mile of our house. One of the boundaries of Town & Country is Valley Road, where that farm is located. I take Valley Road every day when I drive over to visit my mother.

One of the features of Valley Road is a very old, very narrow bridge. If cars approach from both sides simultaneously, one has to wait for the other to cross the bridge before proceeding. There's not usually much traffic on Valley Road, so ordinarily I can cross the bridge without waiting. But the other day when I was coming home from visiting my mother, for some reason there was a lot of traffic at that bridge. Several vehicles were waiting on each side, and several more were approaching from both directions.

What I then observed was an interesting incident of voluntary social cooperation, albeit an inefficient one. Eventually, the after-you-Alphonse routine ended, and one of the cars from the far side of the bridge pulled out and crossed the bridge. The one behind him, instead of following, sat there waiting. When the first car had crossed, the car at the front of my line pulled out and crossed. The car behind him waited. And so we sat there, with one car from each side crossing the bridge, and the next car waiting. Clearly, it would have been more efficient and quicker for all cars from one side to cross, followed by those from the other side. But that didn't happen.

Eventually, I moved forward until there was only one car in front of me. He waited for the next car in line across the bridge to cross, and then he pulled out to cross. Even though I'd been sitting there thinking how inefficient this all way, albeit polite, I didn't pull out behind the car in front of me. Instead, I pulled up and waited while he finished crossing the bridge, and then waiting while the front car in line on the other side crossed. It was then my turn. I crossed the bridge and looked in my rear view mirror. The half dozen or so cars behind me were waiting their turns to cross individually.

I thought that was an interesting example of cooperativeness. The people waiting were variously young, old, white, black, Hispanic, male, and female. They were driving vehicles ranging from a $90,000 Mercedes to a thirty-year old junker that looked as though it should have failed inspection. And yet they all behaved identically, including (surprisingly enough) me. The $90,000 Mercedes was the one in directly in front of me. When the car in front of the Mercedes drove across the bridge, the front car on the other side hesitated, presumably because he thought that a guy driving a huge new Mercedes wasn't likely to wait. That went on for a full 10 seconds, before the guy in the Mercedes finally waved to the guy across the bridge to tell him to come on through.

I actually considered pulling out and following the Mercedes through to see if doing that would break the logjam. But doing that would have violated the tacit agreement that we all seemed to have come to without any discussion. Very interesting. I wonder if any of the other drivers even thought about it.

I spent a fair amount of time yesterday working/playing with Red Hat Linux 8.0. The more I see of it, the more I like it. Roland Dobbins took exception to my comment:

"But if you need an excellent general-purpose desktop operating system for routine web browsing, mail, and office applications, RH 8.0 may just be the first Linux release that gives you what you're looking for."

Roland says:

'the first Linux release' which gave me 'an excellent general-purpose desktop operating system for routine web browsing, mail, and office applications' was Slackware 7.0, about 3.5 years ago.

and

... your phraseology indicates that you think that Red Hat 8.0 is the first Linux release of any kind to provide that functionality for anybody, which is wrong.

I think what you -meant- to say was 'for the average/casual user'.

and he may be right, although I consider myself to be more than an average/casual user, and I have my doubts that Pournelle's Aunt Minnie would find even Red Hat Linux 8.0 as easy to use as Windows. Or perhaps she would, assuming she had a stand-alone system that someone had set up for her. Not, though, if the Minnie household had a Windows network.

Be that as it may, the point remains valid. Red Hat Linux 8.0 is a credible contender as a desktop operating system. I'm going to do a lot more with it over the next several weeks, but at this point I think I'm safe in saying that it's Good Enough for most purposes. If you've been considering running desktop Linux but have been discouraged by earlier attempts, now would be a good time to give it another look. Red Hat Linux 8.0 isn't perfect, but it's very, very good.

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Saturday, 5 October 2002

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10:32 - I'm just back in from helping Barbara bathe the dogs, which is lots of fun. In particular, Malcolm doesn't like to be bathed and tries to squirm away the whole time, especially when he's being hosed down. There's no point to trying to stay dry while bathing the dogs, so Barbara and I just resigned ourselves to being drenched. She's just coming out of the shower now, and it's my turn next.

Just as I was about to publish this, the monitor on my secondary system started failing. I now have a normal top half of the screen, and a bottom half that's all compressed into a half-inch wide area at mid-screen. I tried restarting the system and monitor, but it's still misbehaving. I also tried adjusting the monitor settings, and finally picking up the monitor and letting it drop an inch or two, and it's still hosed. Oh, well. It's an OEM 17" Dell unit with a Trinitron tube, about four years old. That's a longer life than I expect from OEM monitors, which are pretty much junk. I use that monitor on my WinGate system, with which I publish these pages, and lately for the new Linux box. I think I'll start looking at replacement units.

For now, I'll just publish this with the ftp client on my main workstation.

I decided to take Roland Dobbins' advice to do a kitchen-sink install of Red Hat Linux 8.0 to replace the "Desktop" configuration that I'd chosen originally. I made that decision for an interesting reason. Until now, I've considered all the Linux installations I've done to be test-bed installations. If I had to wipe them out and start over, I wouldn't be upset. In fact, I installed each time expecting that I'd blow away the installation and start over. But Red Hat Linux 8.0 is good enough that I decided this might very well be the first Linux installation I've done that I'll want to keep. Given that this is a dot-zero release, I may be wrong about that. If so, Red Hat Linux 8.1 probably isn't too far off.

I blew away my original installation and installed again, choosing the Custom option and then marking the install-everything box. That, incidentally, revealed a small flaw in the interface design. When I chose the Custom option, Anaconda eventually brought me to a screen that listed the available package groups. Some of those were set by default to install all available software in the package group, others to install only some of the software, and still others by default were set not to install anything.

I started at the top of the list, wishing there was a "kitchen sink" check box. I clicked the Details link for each package group, and went in and marked the unselected packages, one-by-one. Some of the package groups would not allow me to select all of the items within the group, or rather they would allow me to select all of the items, but when I clicked OK not all of the items that I'd marked were actually selected for installation. Apparently, there must be conflicts--if you choose this, you can't have that.

At any rate, I worked my way down through the package groups, marking stuff off one-by-one, which took several minutes. When I finally scrolled down to the end, there were two choices at the bottom. One was a minimal install, for stuff like a Linux router. The other was, you guessed it, the kitchen sink install. I wish those two options had been at the top of the list instead of at the bottom. I'll know next time, but if you try installing Red Hat Linux 8.0 and want to do a full install, remember to choose Custom and then just scroll down to the bottom of the Packages list and mark that one "kitchen sink" box.

The full installation comprises 1,463 packages totaling 4,680 MB, and took an hour or so to complete on my hardware, which is a 2 GHz Pentium 4 with 256 MB. The hard disk is a 5,400 RPM entry-level drive, so that may have slowed things down a bit. I watched with some amusement as Anaconda installed stuff like Swedish and Turkish language support for KDE, neither of which I'm likely to need. Oh, well. Hard disk space is essentially free, and I don't imagine that having a gigabyte or two of stuff I don't need will hinder me in any way. I suppose if I ever have a visiting Swede or Turk I'll be able to make him feel right at home. As Roland says, better to have everything I need already there than encounter problems because something I needed wasn't installed by default.

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Sunday, 6 October 2002

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8:18 - After my monitor failed yesterday, I was thinking about running over to Computer & Software Outlet to pick up a replacement. They have the NEC AccuSync 17" models for about $160 and the 19" models for about $230. I really prefer working on a 19" monitor, but the problem is that I'm short of desk space already, with the 19" and the 17" each taking up considerable space. I like to work close to the monitor, so putting in an LCD really doesn't solve the problem. The solution would be to use just one monitor among the three or four machines that live under my desk (with several more sharing a credenza behind me).

The more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself that having just one monitor on my desk would be a Good Thing. When I originally went with two monitors, the idea was that I could have a web page or other reference material up on one of them while I used the second one for entering text. That idea doesn't work all that well anyway, and with a 19" monitor I have enough screen real estate to do both things on one monitor. So I about convinced myself to go with just one monitor.

The problem with that is that KVM switches aren't perfect. I have a couple of Belkin models here, a 4-port OmniCube on my desk and a 4-port OmniView Pro on my credenza, along with high-quality cable sets for them. The problem is that the Belkin KVM switches don't get along with optical mice, or indeed with anything much other than a Microsoft IntelliMouse. I really like using the red-light mouse on my main system (and wish I could use it on the KVM'd systems as well).

Then it struck me. The Belkin KVM switch works perfectly well for switching video, and that's all I really care about. I can connect my 19" Hitachi to the common video port on the KVM, leave my current keyboard and mouse plugged into my main system, and continue to use the shared keyboard and mouse for the other systems, switched via the KVM switch. That frees up quite a bit of desk real estate, allows me to use my 19" Hitachi on four systems, and allows me to continue using my red-light mouse on my main system. I'll still have two keyboards and two mice, but just the one monitor.

So I went ahead and made the change. When Barbara heard what I planned to do, she rushed into my office with the vacuum cleaner and Formula 409. It's true that my desk doesn't get cleaned often because of the rats' nest of cables and so on behind my monitors, speakers, etc. We got the desk cleaned off, moved the old monitor out of the way, and reconnected everything. The systems came up normally, and I set to reconfiguring video on the secondary systems to use the 19" Hitachi.

I ran into a couple of problems there. First, meepmeep (the system that runs WinGate and from which I publish these pages) allowed me to set 1280X1024 at 85 Hz, but the resulting video was truly ugly. At first I thought the KVM wouldn't support 1280X1024 at 85 Hz (the manual says it supports up to 1600X1200, but never mentions the refresh rate, so that might be at 60 Hz or something). Then I realized that the monitor was already working fine at 1280X1024 at 85 Hz through the KVM on my main system, so the KVM wasn't the problem. 

I didn't bother cutting the refresh down, because I want all systems running the same display settings so that I don't need to change anything on the monitor to get a full-frame image. Interestingly, although the image from meepmeep at 1024X768 and 85 Hz was slightly off-center, it wasn't enough to worry about, so I just left that system set that way.

Then it was time to reset the video on the Red Hat Linux 8.0 box from 1024X768 at 85 Hz to 1280X1024. I right clicked on the desktop, chose Properties, and then realized that this wasn't Windows. Oh, well. So I double-clicked the Start Here icon, chose System Settings, and then Display (X-windows) configuration. After prompting me for the root password, the system brought up a very nice dialog that allowed me to change the video settings. I did so and rebooted the system (yes, I know, but it wanted me to restart X, and I know that rebooting the system will restart it. For all you Linux gurus out there, I know I don't have to reboot, and I promise not to make it a habit once I'm up to speed with Linux).

The display came up, but it looked like one of those letterboxed TV shows, full-width, but not taking the entire height of the screen. When the Hitachi loses and then regains video sync, it displays the horizontal and vertical frequencies momentarily. I knew something was wrong, because when I switched to the Linux box it was displaying 87 KHz/85 Hz but on my main box it was displaying 91 KHz/85 Hz. 

I wondered about that for a moment, and finally went back and re-checked my Linux settings. Aha! I'd set Linux to use 1280X960 rather than 1280X1024. That explained both the smaller horizontal frequency and vertical size. Once I reset that from 1280X960 to 1280X1024 (and, yes, rebooted the system) everything worked normally.

So now there are three boxes operating on one monitor. Two of those share a keyboard and mouse, with my main system using a dedicated keyboard and mouse. So far, it seems to be working out pretty well. The one downside is that this makes it a bit clumsy to work with my main system and the Linux box when I need to switch back and forth between them frequently, e.g. when I'm twiddling with the Samba configuration and want to see how that effects access from a Windows box. But the upside is that because my Linux box now displays on the 19" monitor right in front of me, I'll probably tend to use Linux more.

And Red Hat Linux 8.0 sure looks nice on a 19" monitor at 1280X1024.

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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.